Talented Tuesday: A Writer Like Aunt Lizzie

Lizzie M Wells, an influence for young writers in Warren PA

I’ve written about my great-grandmother Orilla Wells Bergreen; her father Frank J Wells (1871-?) has been a bit of a challenge over the years. When the well of information dries up, one strategy is to move across the branches with a lateral search to see if a sibling lived a better-recorded life. That is how I discovered Elizabeth M Wells (1868-1949). ¹

A lateral search led me to Lizzie M Wells, an influence for young writers in Warren PA.

Image courtesy of thaikrit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tweetable: When info dries up on your ancestor, a lateral search may reveal a sibling with a better-recorded life. #genealogy

The oldest of five, responsibility fell to her early. Their father, Joseph Wells, died in Tidioute PA in 1885.² Though I’ve not found the date of their mother Bridget’s death, “L M Wells” was listed as head of household in 1900. She worked as a school teacher and was evidently raising her fifteen year old brother. ³ (The May 29, 1900 edition of The Evening Democrat, Warren PA, indicated Lizzie M Wells was among teachers re-elected for the 1900-1901 school year, and gave her salary as $44.00 per month. )

Tweetable: Writer, or glorified note-taker? A look at Lizzie M Wells. #genealogy

Perhaps it’s logical that as the oldest, the head of household, and a school teacher, she would find her way into a leadership role of sorts. As the secretary of the Corydon Local Institute, she wrote the meeting minutes for The Evening Democrat that ran on April 5, 1894 and April 3, 1895. ⁴ The December 22, 1898 edition reports that she presented at the Teachers’ Institute meeting, a class on Geography. ⁴ Her public speaking abilities extended to her peers as well as her students.

So how do I make the leap from finding two secretary’s reports in the local paper to deciding that Aunt Lizzie was a writer? Surely “glorified note-taker” is the more accurate title. “Writer” implies more than the ability to string together words into sentences, something almost any literate person can do. A writer’s words and sentences are more than the sum of their parts. A writer makes more with her words; she brings about something that wasn’t there before. She creates, a gift from her Creator. Where are Lizzie M Wells’ creative works, those that would seal and establish her identity as a writer?

Tweetable: What’s better than a byline? Ask Aunt Lizzie. #genealogy

In the 1932 edition of The Dragon, Warren High School’s yearbook, Elizabeth Wells was shown as the faculty advisor for the “Beaty School Staff.”  Though not described in detail, this came under the heading of the “Blue and White” student literary magazine. Under her advisement were the Literary Squad and the Business Staff.

I’ve never been a faculty advisor for a literary magazine, but I’ve known a few. I’m here to tell you, no one suffers the poetry of a fourteen-year-old without a deep respect for teens as well as the written word, and no one can–or would–advise young writers unless she was a writer herself. Would you like to know the names of the individuals on the 1932 Literary Squad? They were: Frances McEvoy, Majorie Knabb, Helen Davidson, Winifred Crary, Mary Ellen Ostergard, and Charlotte Knabb. 

Girls’ names.

Tweetable: She invested her time, abilities and gifts in new generations of women writers. #familyhistory 

Aunt Lizzie calls to mind one of my favorite Bible passages, one I return to again and again.

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” -Matthew 13:51-52

The word scribe here doesn’t quite translate to writer. It is the Greek grammateus, and it refers to a clerk, a public servant, a secretary, a recorder, or a teacher.

Like teaching, the calling to write exemplifies servant leadership. A writer placing words before an audience implies some authority, wit or wisdom worth the time it takes to read them. Perhaps two secretary reports are indeed the extent of Lizzie M Wells’ surviving body of work, but still she made more with her words by stewarding the talents of young writers under her authority and guidance.

Question for You: Do you have a writer in your family tree? What surviving works or legacy have you found? How has it been meaningful to you?

13 Replies to “Talented Tuesday: A Writer Like Aunt Lizzie”

  1. Lovely exposition, and yes, the poetry of teenagers is daunting. I remember seeing the lit mag advisor at my school beating his forehead with a fist while he read a poem.


    And he still put it in…

    As far as I know I’m the only writer in my family, but it’s not a subject I care to investigate – the first part of my life is best forgotten.

    That said, I’ve chosen to ‘adopt’ a writing family…the soldiers and airmen of the 1914-18 war who left their hopes, and dreams on paper, but did not survive to see the Armistice.

    I’ve seen war, and lived to tell. Reading the words of those who didn’t makes me appreciate life, and love, and compassion, and it’s that legacy that (I hope) animates what I write.

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment, Andrew. I have quite fond memories of my high school creative writing mentors, although I carefully avoid looking too close on those early efforts.

      I’m humbled by your statement of the legacy behind your writing. Sometimes in my enthusiasm for history, I forget it’s sometimes a difficult subject. God bless you, sir.

  2. Great story about your aunt! I may write but I’m no literary expert! My Mom once said we were related to Lew Wallace (Ben Hur). But you know how those family stories go about famous people — matching family names makes them family! So, far I’ve found no direct link unless he’s a very, VERY distant cousin. 🙂

    1. Thanks Linda. We had a legend about Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University, which I’ve probably mentioned before. The connection IS there, though I need a pretty detailed illustration to begin to explain it!

  3. I’m sure that I have lots of interesting relatives–but the ones I find most fascinating are those who left enough behind so that I can get a sense of what they were like. So, put another way, I guess that the relatives that I find most interesting often were writers.

  4. Hi Brandy, I have a typewritten sheaf of stories my great grandmother wrote for a creative writing class. She based her tales on some very lively court cases she reported when she worked as an itinerant court reporter (the first woman to do so, according to family legend) in the North West. I based a character in my novel The Sheep Walker’s Daughter on her, and I plan to use her stories in a novella or epic historical novel someday. I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t been able to find any actual record of her employment through genealogical research., though.

    Thanks for asking!

  5. The writers in my family are letter writers – and an autobiography or two – and the discovery of these letters – written between 1939 and 1946 – have created a blog, published articles, two books near completion and a dozen more to go. I have found it absolutely fascinating reading about my Mom and Dad, and his siblings and father, as well as other people I knew much later in their lives. Getting to know my parents as young 20-sonethings falling in love has been a thrill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *